As was expected when Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced that the police officers involved in the Breonna Taylor killing would not be charged with second-degree manslaughter, riots ensued. The mob violence that local authorities knew would be coming erupted in the form of at least two (and possibly three) shootings of police officers, rioting, and destruction. Less expected was the twist of presenting the grand jury decision as a matter of party affiliation rather than American justice.
Presidential contender Joe Biden, in a prepared statement, said:
“I know people are frustrated and they have a right to peacefully protest, but violence is never acceptable … And we can express pain, grief, anger, and disappointment at the way things are, but remain focused on rebuilding trust in our communities and delivering change that can be.”
Officers shot, officers struck in the head with baseball bats, wanton destruction, and it appears Mr. Biden sees this as little more than “frustration.” The former VP and others failed to point out what a resolution might be; instead, the situation began to be framed as a party issue.
Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, suggested that AG Cameron had delivered a Bull Connor speech, referencing the 60s-era anti-Civil Rights politician from Birmingham, Alabama. She said to MSNBC’s Joy Reid, “I think what I saw this morning was a Bull Connor speech in 2020 … unfortunately, it was being given by a black prosecutor.”
Ignoring the fact that Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor was a Democrat, Reid asked viewers to disregard Cameron’s skin color and look to his party affiliation for the reason behind the verdict. She advised:
“I think you have to always look at party. Party is the religion now in America — especially for Republicans. Don’t look at the fact that this guy is black. That does not mean anything … He is a Republican through and through. He spoke at the RNC. He told you who he was. Believe him.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also chimed in with her thoughts, tweeting, “Breonna Taylor should be alive today. She should be living and laughing and loving. Instead, her family is left continuing the search for justice. Today’s charging decision holds no one accountable for her death.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) followed a similar theme:
“This is wrong. Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. She deserves justice. Her family deserves justice. Unjust laws produce unjust outcomes. This must end. The Senate must pass the Justice in Policing Act.”
Schumer’s echoing of the rioter’s words again frame this as a Republican versus Democrat issue.
Protests continue to rage across the country from the west coast to the east, some violent, some not. And while many may be angry at the decision not to prosecute the officers for Breonna Taylor’s death, the framing of this as a political issue is likely to do more harm than good.
If politicians think the practices and codes of conduct permitted for police officers are wrong, then they are in a position to change the laws. Many of those decrying the current regulations have been in office for decades and have failed to make the changes they now say are urgent. If the system is flawed, then the gatekeepers of the system should be accepting responsibility.
Making political hay out of a tragic death is neither courageous nor helpful.
Read more from Mark Angelides.